Hardships and challenges may be a pain, but they are the necessary building blocks of growth. This week's Parsha refers to the slavery and hardships the Jewish people experienced in Egypt as an iron smelting furnace. Our sages explain that just as a smelting furnace heats up and removes the impurities from precious metals, so too the experience in Egypt purified our people for their mission of teaching Godly values to the world. The challenges we face in life are the lessons we need to make us great.


In our story, a kid discovers how an uncomfortable challenge can become the springboard for success.


The flashy colored poster in the school science resource room caught Andrew Jacobs' eye. Like everything, he had to read it twice before he could make out the words: JUNIOR AEROSPACE COMPETITION! First prize $500 cash and an internship with NASA!

Now for a kid who was as fascinated with space travel as Andrew was, this sounded just about like the most exciting contest there could be. He was about to sign up when a pained thought crossed his mind. Who am I kidding? I have a learning disability. I can hardly read or write without the letters all jumbling around in my head. How can I possibly ever win a contest like this?

Yes it was true that through lots of patient, hard work he had managed to make it in school, and even earn top grades, but school was one thing - this would mean having to go head to head with some of the smartest kids in the state. Why can't I just read quickly like everyone else?

He was about to forget about the contest and walk on when he had another thought: Whenever I had to face what seemed like impossible odds, I never let that stop me. Why give up now?

Feeling determined, Andrew signed up, carefully printing his name to make sure the letters came out right, and was on his way.

The judges must have liked the essay he worked on so hard because he soon got a letter saying he had been selected as a finalist! They sent him a package with all sorts of chemicals and pieces, and an assignment to use them to build a working model rocket, by exactly following the instructions given. In three weeks there would be a 'fly-off' in the big park next to the State Capitol where the grand prize winner would be chosen.

Day and night, every spare moment, Andrew holed himself up in his basement playroom turned rocket factory, carefully working through all the difficult mathematical formulas, and assembling the rocket according to instructions. It wasn't an easy project for anybody, but for him, who had to work so slowly to read everything right, it almost felt like torture.

But Andrew persisted and was just about finished when he came to the last instruction that said, "Disassemble and recheck fuel tank to make sure you have put it together properly." That was a funny instruction. He had assembled it just like directions said. Why should he bother to take it apart and re-check it?

Andrew was anxious to finish and almost decided to blow it off, when he thought, I'm used to re-checking the stuff I do anyway because of my difficulties in reading, so why be lazy and skip this step, especially since the instructions tell me to do it? It took him a while but he did it.

Soon the big day of the 'fly-off' arrived. Andrew and his dad drove out to the Capitol together with his sleek 18 inch rocket which he had painted red, white, and blue, and named 'Andy's Challenger.'

But when he got there and started chatting with some of the other finalists, Andrew's heart sank. It was obvious that these kids were super-geniuses. They threw around some ease technical terms that Andrew had never even heard of. What had he gotten into?

"The fly-off will now commence!" came the announcement. "The contestant whose rocket flies the highest, as measured by our digital altitude scanner, will be declared the winner," the judge, a senior NASA aerospace engineer, said solemnly over the loudspeaker.

Andrew, who had gone to the end of the line, watched as one by one, the kids fired their rockets. He had expected to see their rockets soar, but to his surprise, many of them didn't lift off at all, and those that did seemed to only sputter up a few yards and then fizzle down with a thud. All the kids seemed confused, but for some reason the judge didn't look surprised.

Finally it was his turn. Andrew got ready. Boy, if these genius kids couldn't even do it right, what chance do I have? he thought as he held his breath, and hoped his rocket would at least get off the ground.

He pushed the launch button, and WHOOSH!-Andrew's rocket went sailing hundreds of feet straight into the sky!

"We have a winner!" announced the judge, smiling for the first time. He called Andrew onto the stage. As he presented him with his prize, he said into the microphone: "Congratulations, both on your ability and your integrity. We see you have done your work thoroughly, because the last step in the instructions had been a trick step. The fuel was designed by our engineers in such a way that only by building, taking apart, and building it again would the fuel properly burn."

The other kids started to protest and groan.

The judge continued. "We placed the trick step there, not to trip you up, but to test you. This was only a model rocket, but an aerospace engineer who may be designing real spacecraft upon which lives of astronauts and others will depend, must not only be talented, but patient and thorough and willing to put in the extra effort to go the extra mile. Our winner, Andrew Jacobs, obviously is a young man who has what it takes!"

As Andrew took his prize, he thought about all those kids for whom it had been so easy that they breezed by the trick step, and how he probably would have too if his learning challenge hadn't forced him to learn how to be patient and thorough. It seemed like 'Andy's Challenger' and his 'challenge' had both helped him to fly high.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Andrew feel about his learning challenge at first?
A. He felt like it would hold him back from doing well in the contest.

Q. How did he feel about it in the end?
A. He saw how it had taught him to be thorough and patient, which was just the skills he needed to win.

Ages 6-9

Q. Besides how to build rockets, what did Andrew learn from the experience?
A. He had felt frustrated about his learning challenge and felt that it was unfair and held him back from success, but he discovered that it had really helped him grow and taught him valuable life skills he wouldn't have learned otherwise.

Q. Should a person try to give himself hardships so he can grow from them?
A. No. We should try to live as normal and pleasant a life as we can. God will send us whatever lessons we need to learn. The key is to remember that if and when hardships come, we should accept them and know they haven't come to knock us down, but rather to build us up.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think that hardships tend to make a person feel closer to God? Why or why not?
A. Although we always have free choice whether to come closer to God or the opposite, in general hardships are a great chance to come closer. Firstly they tend to make us more humble and aware of the truth that we depend on God for everything. Additionally, difficulties tend to bring us to prayer, which is one of life's great paths to God awareness.

Q. Is it possible to have an easy life and still be great?
A. Possible but highly unlikely. Spiritual and character strength, just like physical strength, is built up through exercise. That spiritual exercise is life's challenges and difficulties. A life without challenges tends to turn us into spiritual couch-potatoes.